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Is the Blame Game Making You Less Intelligent?

One of the most dysfunctional games we play in our families, corporations, political arenas, and pretty much anywhere you find people interacting with each other, is the blame game. Sadly, this has become the norm now in media and politics. When something happens, blame is immediately assigned. Of course, this prompts a torrent of conflict because not everyone sees the situation the same way (remember, we’re each making up our own stories) and it will probably take some investigation to determine the details. But the details are often of little value if we're still using them to cast blame.

It’s true that we can learn how to handle conflict more effectively, but how about minimizing conflict by refusing to play the blame game in the first place? How would we do that? Well, it starts with replacing blame with ownership.

What does that mean in cases where we’re not personally involved? True, we didn’t commit the crime or make the mistake but, becoming aware of it, we can own our attitude and take responsibility for choosing a helpful one. Instead of jumping on the blame bandwagon we could focus on finding a solution rather than pointing fingers.

For instance, your spouse slams into the garage door when he’s parking in a hurry. OK, they’re already feeling bad about that, no need to pile on. They’re already piling on their own blame for a careless moment. What do they need from you? Some comfort, obviously. We all do stupid things from time to time, no one is perfect. And when we screw up it triggers memories of past miscues. Over time, that can ravage our self-image and develop a kind of performance anxiety where we actually set ourselves up for even more failure, as if to confirm that what we think about ourselves ­ “I’m a loser!” ­ is true.

How about when you are involved in the situation that turns out poorly? Too often people cross their arms pointing in any direction but their own to assign the blame (unfortunately, this practice has become so common in some companies that employees refer to the gesture as adopting the “Corporate Coat of Arms”). But when we fail to take ownership for our role in what happens, we also cheat ourselves out of a learning opportunity. In fact, we actually compromise our intelligence by not making the connection between what happened and what we (individually and collectively) might have done differently to avoid that outcome.

I (Chris) remember a Native American friend whose grandfather came to visit him one time. While at my friend’s house that weekend, I was complaining about something that I felt had happened “to me” even though I was part of the process. My friend’s grandfather listened from across the room and the offered me some sage advice. “Life is kind,” he said. “She will bring you back your lessons over and over again until you have learned them.”

While I was frustrated at the time, as I reflected on his statement, what puzzled me most is that he began his advice by stating that "life is kind" by allowing us to face the same challenges over and over again. The more I thought about it, though, the more his words began to impact me. Every moment is an opportunity to learn--to increase our intelligence--if we choose to see it that way.

True friends support each other to face facts, learn, and move on. So do genuine business colleagues. It’s inevitable that mistakes will happen. Next time you’re faced with one, try the supportive approach: “This happened. OK, what are the implications? What do we need to do now? How can I help? What can we learn?”

We can become solution centered, rather than problem-centered. It just takes one person to inspire others, not to deny what’s happened and keep repeating mistakes, but to relate together beyond blame and co-create solutions together.

Here’s your Thriving tip for the week:

“The next time someone close to you makes a mistake,

try engaging with them to create a solution together.”

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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